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Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law Proposed

Posted by Naomi Iwasaki, Mobility Policy Analyst on March 13th, 2015
Photo credit flickr user Michael Bentley (CC BY 2.0)

In California, bicycle riders under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets. However a new bill (SB 192, Liu-D) has been proposed to the state legislature that would require helmets on all bicycle riders, including those riding as passengers or in a trailer pulled by a bicycle. If passed, the bill would expand the current $25 fine for minors to riders of all ages.

While this issue may seem simple, it actually carries controversial arguments on both sides. It is not disputed that helmets can protect a rider’s head and face in the unfortunate event of a collision or fall. However, some bicycle advocates such as the California Bicycle Coalition argue that requiring helmet use is not an effective way to improve bicycling safety and may lead to declines in ridership, citing head trauma studies that showed head injury rates did not necessarily improve after mandatory bicycle helmet laws were enacted. Another concern is law enforcement may unfairly choose to enforce the law in low-income communities and communities of color.

Studies have shown that regular walking and bicycling include public health benefits that are linked to fewer overall deaths and longer lives, even when accounting for crash injuries and fatalities. Many advocates would prefer to direct the bicycle safety conversation to addressing factors that would prevent collisions before they happen. Strategies such as reducing high vehicle speeds and distracted driving (such as driving while texting) as well as improving bicycle—and pedestrian—infrastructure would create safer conditions on the streets for all road users.

Posted in 2015